Defenders pull out of City's Slave Trail Commission ceremony

PLEASE NOTE: On March 29 the marker unveiling event was postponed by the Slave Trail Commission from April 3rd to April 10 due to a decision by Mayor Jones and Governor McDonnell to back out of the unveiling in order to attend the VCU Rams playoff game in Houston TX. After much thought and consultation with colleagues, friends and members of the Community Organizing Committee, the Defenders have decided to not participate in the STC event on April 10, but to proceed with an independent event on Emancipation Day, April 3rd.

M E D I A  R E L E A S E  from  the
Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality

PO Box 23202, Richmond, VA 23223 Ph: 804.644.5834 Fax: 804.332.5225
E-mail: DefendersFJE@hotmail.com www.DefendersFJE.org

MEDIA CONTACTS: ANA EDWARDS or PHIL WILAYTO at (804) 644-5834 or DefendersFJE@hotmail.com

Defenders pull out of City's Slave Trail Commission ceremony; call for independent event on April 3

In light of the City's inexcusable postponement of Sunday's ceremony honoring sites associated with Richmond's dominant role in the U.S. slave trade, the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality have informed the city's Slave Trail Commission that we will no longer be participating in this event. Instead, we are calling on the community to hold its own independent event on Sunday, at the time and place of the original program.

Originally scheduled for April 3 – Richmond's Emancipation Day – the Slave Trail Commission's ceremony was to celebrate the unveiling of 17 historical markers along Richmond's Walk of Enslaved Africans. Ana Edwards, Chair of the Defenders' Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, had been invited by Commission Chair Delores McQuinn to unveil the marker at the African Burial Ground, at 15th and East Broad streets.

The Defenders had initially accepted the invitation because we thought it important to acknowledge the placement of these markers as a good step forward in making Richmond's Black history visible, and to again demand the immediate closing of the Virginia Commonwealth University parking lot and removal of the asphalt that now covers this sacred site.

However, the Commission rescheduled the event for April 10 after Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones and Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell decided that, instead of honoring their commitment to speak at Sunday's ceremony, they would instead travel to Houston, Texas, to watch the VCU Rams compete in the Final Four NCAA basketball game.

After nearly 10 years of struggle by the Defenders and many other community organizations and individuals, a bill introduced by Delegate McQuinn to authorize the transfer of the Burial Ground property to the City was unanimously adopted by this year's General Assembly. Further, a budget amendment introduced by the governor authorizing $3.3.million to compensate VCU for the transfer also passed. And yet, the university – the area's dominant economic and political powerhouse – continues to use the Burial Ground for a parking lot.

The VCU connection in the decision to postpone Sunday's unveiling ceremony simply adds insult to this historical and cultural injury, said Edwards.

“Not only have the mayor and governor backed out of their commitment to speak on Emancipation Day, but they have done so in order to attend a sporting event in support of the very university that continues to use the African Burial Ground as a parking lot. They have done so without hesitation, reservation or explanation, and the city's Slave Trail Commission is now busy re-arranging everyone else's schedule to accommodate this abandonment.

“Together these stewards of our city's and state's historical and cultural resources have demonstrated to the community at all levels their priorities in regard to honoring Richmond's African ancestors and helping to overcome Virginia's tortured racial history.

“As a result, the Defenders can no longer in good conscience participate in this exercise. Instead, we call on all those who support the reclamation and proper memorialization of the African Burial Ground to join us, as planned, at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 3, at the Burial Ground, for a community event honoring the ancestors and demanding the immediate closing of VCU's offending parking lot.”

Following this event, the Defenders invite the community to join us at the monthly meeting of the African Burial Ground Community Organizing Committee, a broad-based group initiated by the Defenders after last year's annual Oct. 10 Gabriel Forum. The organizing meeting, which will address how to intensify the struggle to close the VCU parking lot, will take place at 4 p.m at Asbury United Methodist Church, 324 N. 29th St., in Richmond's Church Hill neighborhood.

For more information, please call the Defenders at (804) 644-5834 or e-mail DefendersFJE@hotmail.com.